This sad, very sad scenario is repeated all over the corporate world, and with alarming frequency. You know the drill: All of a sudden, a perfectly capable, highly motivated and well regarded veteran middle manager finds him or herself on the company skids. A major mistake has happened, and the company is either embarrassed or lost money. Someone's got to take the blame, yet it's never, ever anyone in the higher echelons of management and/or the politically connected, who actually made the decisions that caused the screw-up. And, while the gross unfairness of it all makes you disgusted and sick to your stomach, there's usually not a damned thing you can do about it. Or is there?
None of us want to be, yet we all do run the risk of becoming, the fall guy, the perfect victim. Someone who's easy to blame, whether or not they were responsible for the mistake, or error, in the first place. It's nasty, it sucks, and yet there's not a company or bureaucracy that doesn't employ this gambit.
A great example of how the fall guy process works was best displayed during the recent snow storm that socked NYC. Because Mayor Bloomberg, and his top brass, neglected to declare a snow emergency, despite much advance warning from the National Weather Service, streets remained unplowed for days. The City ground to a frozen halt, and ambulances couldn't respond to emergencies. As a tragic result, people died. Bottom line-rather than the Mayor placing blame for this major screw-up on his political appointees/cronies, he instead demoted the chief of the ambulance service! Of course, this guy had nothing whatsoever to do with snow removal, and was totally blameless in this whole sordid affair. Yet and still, he was publicly pilloried by the Mayor, demoted and, just for good measure, is now conveniently 'under investigation'. After a lifetime of dedicated service, and a stellar career, this guy has been designated the sacrificial lamb, the scapegoat, the perfect fall guy. And the real culprits continue to skate, as always.
Usually, the perfect fall guy (or gal) is like the person mentioned earlier. High enough on the food chain so that any action taken against him resonates within the organization, or the public, yet just low enough to not impact or reflect on the upper echelon. He's not in a union, has a pension to protect, and is expected to go quietly into the corporate night. Fall guys are subject to an almost endless array of nastiness; they can be demoted, have their cube moved, lose responsibilities, have to report to a new, and usually younger micro- managing creep of a boss, denied an annual bonus, etc. They are also called into HR, fired, and escorted by security from the building that same day.
Here's five ways that you can protect yourself from being your company's fall guy. You'll know if you need to play these cards, because if anything these corporate types aren't gamblers. They don't want further embarrassment, or a public law suit. And, while it's not blackmail, once they know that you can indeed fight back, they'll shop around for another victim.
1. Keep written records of who, in your work area, made major corporate decisions, and when. Do not keep this on your work computer.
2. Avoid responsibility for making any and all controversial decisions. Put your ego aside, and send these up the chain whenever possible.
3. Have reliable witnesses with you at sensitive, policy-level meetings.
4. Take copies of all your major work products, to include accomplishments and commendations, home.
5. Be subtle and discreet.
By following these steps, you'll have a fall guy insurance policy, the cost of the premium only being your due diligence.
This post was written by career advice blog Jobacle team member Victor Kipling.